Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Act Yourself Into Right Thinking

One powerful slogan from Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is "You cannot think yourself into right acting, but you can act yourself into right thinking."  There is an article into today's New York Times by a psychologist that questions whether or not self-insight can lead to happiness.  He concludes that it cannot and uses the story of a man who went into a profession he did not like due to paternal pressure to illustrate his point.  When this man was able to quit his job and get one in the area of his passion he was happy.  He acted himself into right thinking.

How can we leap over the obstacles that keep us from acting in a way we know does not make us happy?  My observation and experience says it is the genuine support of other people that empowers us to do what we would not do.  Consider that working AA is the most successful way to beat alcoholism.  The program is based on two critical components:  1) attendance at meetings where the basic activity is listening to others talk about their successes to help out those who are just getting sober and 2) working one on one with some one who has had success getting sober and whose job it is to unflinchingly let the newcomer know that it can be done.  This is factual.  There is also the more etherial component of relying on a power greater than oneself.  I would guess that at first this is almost without exception experienced as the power of the group at that meeting and the voice of the Sponsor (that one on one person).  This support sends the message that is counter to our culture's (let alone most family's values) emphasis on rugged individualism and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps.  Many people in all stripes of twelve step groups dealing with work, money, sex, drug and alcohol addiction, food, relationships and cigarettes are learning to let go of actions that do not make them happy or truly satisfied with the cheering on by other people and, especially, one other person to help them act their way into right thinking.

When struggling with discouragement and dispair we can remember that the best thing we can do is take action, even we don't feel like it, that we know will make us happier.  If we are struggling with taking that action the key is to give that aunt, brother, friend or cousin who will not hesitate to cheer us on a call and tell us we can do it.  If we don't have that kind of person in our lives we can find some kind of supporting group that is safe who can help. 

Act your way into right thinking!

Thursday, January 13, 2011


There are very few of us sitting around with the sense that all is well and there is nothing we are longing for.  When I was young I met Allen Ginsberg and all I could muster the courage to ask him was, "Are you content?" and he answered, with irritation in his voice, that finding contentment was not what it was about. Was he irritated that I was so ignorant to bother him with this question or was he irritated that he wasn't content?  Based on my experience I'd say that very little is about me so I conclude that he was irritated because he was not content. 
So.  It bugs us that we are not content.  We long for a sense of peace and serenity that transcends the trials and tribulations of this world.  I think about Corrie Ten Bloom who spent time in a Nazi concentration camp.  She was put in barracks that were flea infested and came to be grateful for those fleas since they drove out the brutal guards who did not want those bites.  She saw the fleas as a gift from God.  To me this is an amazing story.  It opens the possibility that the things we loathe and that drive us crazy may be miraculous.  Rather than inventing poisons to rid ourselves of irritations, poisons that in the end kill us, too, we may change our perceptions and see these irritations as divine gifts.
So.  There's this awareness of life that we share.  Some call it a journey and that seems as good a metaphor as any.  So we truck along this road and suddenly run into some wall like losing a job, having an unfaithful spouse, a child who wants to go on birth control, or a broken foot.  To keep going forward we try to scale that wall only to find it is made of polished marble and greased.  We still try to scale it and become more and more determined.  "How unfair," we cry, "Apologize right now for hurting me and you owe me so much now." or "There is absolutely no way that is happening."  And we try again and again to get over the top of that growing, slippery wall.  Then, by some grace, something catches our eye.  It is some flicker just on the periphery of our vision.  For a moment we turn our heads.  Low and behold there is the path stretched out to our right side.  It is a lovely path worn by millions of soft feet.  It is lined with wild flowers.  We see friends and potential friends there coming and going.  They are cracking jokes and some are singing.  We look back at this wall we've been obsessing about and wonder what the heck we've been doing.  We are in danger at that point of really killing ourselves.  Can we forgive ourselves for all of the energy we've spent on trying to climb this wall?  All we have to do is turn our bodies to align with the journey again and take one step. Then a friend grabs our hand and we take a step together.  It is easy.
So.  The wall is a pain and is frustrating and infuriating.  Yet it seems to be there to keep us from going too far down a path that is not the true journey.  Baseball helps me here.  Three strikes and the player is out and another one gets a turn.  When I do something three times and it still doesn't work I try to pay attention to that.  I admit I've made a deal with myself and what I imagine to be God that goes "I think this might be what I want to do.  I'm going to do it.  If it's really a bad I'm sure you'll stop me.  Since I'm not all knowing or anything like that I'll try it again.  If I do it three times and it still isn't working then that's it.  I hear you and I will try something else." 
For now that is the best I can do.